Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Unexpected Indication

Telomere – tip of a chromosome – DNA sequence encodes small proteins that are elevated in cancer cells

12 May 2023

Unexpected Indication

Like a burly bouncer with a hidden talent for ballet, there’s more to telomeres than meets the eye. They are repeating sections of DNA that sit at the end of strands, protecting the inner regions by degrading a little each time a cell replicates. They eventually diminish sufficiently to cause cell damage as we age. It was recently discovered that, counter to previous beliefs, these lengths of DNA can code for two small proteins, VR and GL. Researchers synthesised these to study their impacts, and then found them more frequently in cancer cells (pictured, VR in green, human cancer cells in red) and in people with telomere-related diseases. A blood test for these proteins might be a route to early cancer diagnosis, and as the levels rise over time, the potent proteins might be an indicator of a person’s biological age (a more significant indicator of health than chronological age).

Written by Anthony Lewis

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